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On Naomi Klein and the need to rethink the economics of North Woods mining

“We need an entirely new economic model, and a new way of sharing this planet.”
Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate”

There are lots of ways that conversations about sulfide mining in Minnesota conclude, some of them less than pretty. But what about where they start?

If we start with the proposition — and I believe we should — that we all share a stake in the health of the air and the water, as well as the soil and trees and habitats, then isn’t it the case that profits taken, and damage caused, by corporations exploiting these resources is at our collective expense? In other words, isn’t that resource-based corporate welfare? (One might argue the entire economy relies on it.)

If so, shouldn’t it follow that subsidizing public institutions (transit, schools, health, etc.) by taxing investors who enjoy these profits is not “giving money away to the undeserving poor,” but reimbursing us for our losses?

What if the state owned mining profits?

More to the point, when it comes to current sulfide mining proposals in Minnesota (PolyMet, TwinMetals), what if we owned 100 percent of the profits, minus a reasonable fee for the work that produced it, rather than multinational corporations owning the profits and paying taxes on a portion of it? (Incidentally, Tony Hayward, of BP Deepwater Horizon infamy is deeply invested in PolyMet.) Would we not then be better able to invest those revenues back into Minnesota, including a sizeable fund for any cleanup-related costs and an international fee for carbon-based pollution produced?

If such a narrative were part of our discussion, then perhaps it would be possible to have a rational conversation about the wisdom of accepting risks to our waters of generations of pollution. Perhaps it would then also be possible to speak both about jobs and environment.

I haven’t heard it. And without such a narrative, the deal has seemed cooked in the company’s favor from the outset. 

JT Haines

‘This Changes Everything’

Naomi Klein in “This Changes Everything” is right — now is the time to “think big, go deep, and move the ideological pole far away from the stifling market fundamentalism that has become the greatest enemy to planetary health.”

The PolyMet debate is an opportunity for us do our part by completely reconsidering how we think about public minerals and resources in Minnesota. According to a recent Star Tribune poll, support for the PolyMet proposal is declining. Perhaps we already are.

This commentary was written by St. Paul-based writer, producer and attorney JT Haines, and originally published at Newspeak Review. Follow @JTH2020.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/26/2014 - 03:47 pm.

    Article

    Mr. Haines is a smart guy–he has some good critical thinking there and presents ideas that don’t fit the normal corporate model. Personally, I’m not convinced that we should do any mining at all, given the high environmental costs of the operation. But it’s refreshing to read an article from someone who’s willing to consider a scenario that at least has a shot at letting everyone win: public and corporations like. Otherwise we’re stuck with the usual business model of “give me all your money and no one gets hurt. Oh, and I lied about the last part.”

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/26/2014 - 09:17 pm.

    There are so many economic arguments that do not account…

    …for real world costs and expenses, a few classes of which are identified in this timely column.

    To look at it from a slightly different slant: the vast public resources of all kinds are the very FOUNDATION of public – and corporate – well-being.

    Currently, when it comes to mineral resources and water resources, they are virtually GIVEN AWAY or nearly so, on the thesis that the public will realize a trickle-down net benefit from these grants – e.g., in jobs, taxes, and the like.

    But as the author points out, these calculations never take account of ALL costs, so they are illusory from the outset.

    We must develop a new and rigorous economic model for determining the public value in the sale of natural resources – starting with the proposition denoted above, that the primary beneficiaries should be the owners of the resource, which is the public. Therefore the lion’s share of benefit should also go to the public.

    This is distinctly NOT THE CASE in all these proposed mining projects currently under consideration. The overwhelming majority of benefit would go to these corporations.

    However, we currently have a generation of leaders who are simply unable to accept these propositions, because they really believe the primary benefit should go to the corporate interests, and, if the economic modelling is full of bullsh*t, well – it’s good enough.

    A Polymet executive claimed that it didn’t matter how long the remediation efforts from their mining operations would be required, because Polymet was prepared to fund it “forever”. I kid you not. Our DNR is taking seriously the notion that a maintenance and remediation effort spanning centuries (as much as 500 years, according to the supplemental draft EIS) is something they should consider.

    As another example of the economic acumen of the leadership in our state, dare I mention the financing plan for the Vikings stadium ?? Led by our cheerleading governor ?? I’m sorry if this is like kicking a guy when he’s down, but there was a serious failure of leadership here. Here is another example of the perception that public assets – taxes, land, special laws – really OUGHT to be given out to the wealthy so they can profit more.

    We can do better, a whole lot better.

  3. Submitted by Leslie Davis on 09/27/2014 - 09:22 am.

    Polymet Mining

    I challenged Governor Dayton in the DFL primary and the media deliberately blacked me out on all my issues so that he wouldn’t be embarrassed by being so ineffective. I strongly oppose sulfide mining in Minnesota. EVER.
    MINNPOST let Cyndy Brucato write for them and mislead readers by never mentioning my name in her numerous articles.
    Leslie Davis
    http://www.LeslieDavis.org

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/28/2014 - 06:06 am.

      Promotion

      Ms. Davis, you simply sound bitter, which is not an attractive coat to wear. Yes, you may have been slighted and ignored by the media, but kvetching about it won’t change the situation or endear yourself to the public as it just demonstrates that you have a thin skin and unpractical solutions to problems. Neither are qualities people look for in a public employee.

      One solution that readily comes to mind is to write your own articles to the editor to explain your positions, rather than wait for someone else to write about you.

      Personally though, I have to question the wisdom of running against an incumbent for the nomination. Wouldn’t it be better a better strategy to bide your time for when the incumbent retires? Spend that time building up connections within the party and get your name out in front of the public. A large party of a sound political strategy is doing the right thing at the right time. Running against Dayton at this moment doesn’t look like it fits that criteria.

  4. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 09/27/2014 - 09:32 am.

    Lousy logic either way?…

    If bad mining practices are under the control of corporations or the state and the profit goes to improve the health and welfare of our youth whomever, in order to compensate for the emanating pollution/ health issues etc; environmental damage so caused by state or corporation making the ‘profit’ where’s any positive alternative in this alternative?

    Profit and control carries its own pollution of which all ‘good’ ideas carry the burden or curse to which, whomever is in charge, eventually succumb?

    Politics or corporations embedded in the potential to corrupt…who do you trust? Not just corporations but political allegiances create the possibility of same faultines when profit is the motive for change, not people? Be it state and its legislatures or corporate boards and high powered corporations…who do you trust? Where profit is motivation for change, then where is viable pollution control group uncorrupted by the profit motive…

    Lousy logic either way…I better read Klein’s book since all things don’t add up?

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/27/2014 - 11:36 am.

    Nice article. Food for thought, especially for people who would like us all very much to forget the collapse of capitalism in 2008–repeated, under little-or non-regulated circumstances, since the dawn of the industrial era in the West.

    We cannot forget, either, that American was built, and great fortunes garnered by a few, on the basis of wholesale governmental giveaways of our natural resources. Think about the railroads, for example. Mid-nineteenth-century laws still favor railroads over any governmental [common] interest, which is why it is so hard to control the passage of unsafe oil trains through our towns and cities.

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 09/29/2014 - 12:55 pm.

      Two Words: JAMES WATT

      JAMES WATT

      …wanted to sell off mineral rights even in the national parks.
      To foreign bidders, who would be left with egg on their faces when the End arrived.

      We’re all supposed to be raptured by now using his timeline, aren’t we?

  6. Submitted by Matt Haas on 09/28/2014 - 10:38 am.

    Then pick a different party

    Its not like you haven’t in the past.

  7. Submitted by E Gamauf on 09/29/2014 - 07:55 am.

    Aquifer Heal Thyself

    Who has to buy into sharing the planet & its resources?
    In some cases, corporations are extra-national.

    Where is the forward-thinking on the resource of water:

    Fact remains that we operate on DILUTION.
    And expect the ground water to cleanse itself of the mineral concentrations of & toxins we introduce, or are introduced by private mining operations, etc.

    Perhaps no oe in northern Minnesota expects they, or their kids will live there for long & can sell property before it loses value.

    Taking this to coastal areas – are we going to build levees around Miami Beach?

    What happens when low lying cities are flooded – and the various toxins of civilization are washed into the sea? That should do wonders for reefs & other things we depend upon.

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